Infamous Captain Cook statue in controversial pose removed from Queensland street

A statue of a Captain James Cook with an arm raised in a position that some liken to a Nazi salute has been removed from a main street in Cairns.

Demolition contractor Martin Anton hopes to be the unlikely saviour of the controversial statue, which had been used to advertise a topless bar, after reportedly buying the statue for a token $1.

Anton is taking the statue to a holding facility in the nearby Atherton Tablelands, and is remaining somewhat coy about his long-term plans for it. He told the Cairns Post only that his family business planned to do “everything in our power to preserve it”.

Many, though, would rather see the statue consigned to the dustbins of history.

Calls to remove the statue gained prominence in 2020 as the Black Lives Matter movement led to a removal of statues commemorating colonial figures around the world.

First Nations artist Emma Hollingsworth’s petition to have the statue removed, which garnered 19,435 signatures, describes it as “a slap in the face to all Indigenous people”.

“Since 1972, the James Cook statue on Sheridan Street has stood as a symbol of colonialism and genocide,” she wrote.

“For us it represents dispossession, forced removal, slavery, genocide, stolen land, and loss of culture – among many other things.”

Adrian Abberley summarised the sentiment of many in this three-word reaction to the statue’s removal.

“Bye, Adolph [sic] Cook,” he wrote on Facebook.

Colin Russell wrote that he was pleased to see the removal of the “embarrassing eyesore”.

But for others the statue was a Cairns icon that should be preserved.

Recently re-elected member for Leichhardt, Warren Entsch, ridiculed calls to remove the 50-year-old statue at the time of the petition.

“Let’s get rid of the pyramids and all this other stuff,” he told Channel 7.

“That’s the same sort of nonsense that we’re talking about here.”

In the end though, it was not a historical reckoning which saw Cook removed from Cairns’ main drag, but the construction of a hospital after a land deal was struck with the James Cook University.

A crowd gathered to watch its removal, with some bemoaning the loss of more personal histories associated with the monument.

“Who will encourage me to do the Macarena whilst driving now?” Linden Bramich wrote on social media after the statue was removed.

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